WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross denied reports last week that he was signed to replace Mauro Ranallo as the play-by-play voice of New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV. But even his denials were more "not yet" than "no".
And that's because where there's smoke there's fire, even in the wacky world of pro graps.
Fox Sports broke the news about an hour ago - JR is back!
Ross, who lead Global Force Wrestling's English language presentation of New Japan (NJPW)'s Wrestle Kingdom pay-per-view (PPV) in 2015, had this to say about the news:
This opportunity to work with AXS TV is attractive on many fronts. The travel won't be weekly but approximately 8-10 trips to Los Angeles in a year's time. While there, in a two-day, voice-over session, we will hammer out up to six shows. I'm happy OKC now has non-stop flights to LAX.
I'm a big fan of the New Japan product as they have been one if the most highly regarded brands within the genre for decades. New Japan has a unique opportunity with AXS TV to grow their brand in North America. The more fans sample the athleticism, physicality, no-nonsense presentation of NJPW the more they're going to like it.
For me, the New Japan Pro Wrestling business philosophy reminds me of my earlier years in wrestling. I've had numerous other offers, some serious and others just flirting to return to TV Wrestling broadcasting but none have had the appeal that AXS TV offered me. We think my style will fit the NJPW in-ring presentation well. We'll know that conclusively in early March.
Plus, AXS TV and I discussed other potential projects outside NJPW.
AXS show repackages approximately year-old matches and storylines for its show. We've reviewed it in the past, and it's well worth your time - even if it you've seen the action before with Japanese commentary.
Ranallo was a major selling point to New Japan Pro Wrestling, however. How well JR fills his shoes will influence whether or not the hour-long episodes remain must-see TV.
With a legend like JR and the likely hook of being able to learn more about guys you're watching on NXT or Raw each week like Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, AXS may have an even hotter product on their hands.
UPDATE: Here's AXS TV's press release, with additional quotes from Ross:
LEGENDARY WRESTLING COMMENTATOR JIM ROSS JOINS AXS TV'S ‘NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING' ALONGSIDE JOSH BARNETT STARTING MARCH 4
‘NJPW' Airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on AXS TV
LOS ANGELES - January 19, 2016 - AXS TV today confirmed legendary pro wrestling commentator Jim Ross will join AXS TV's hit series ‘New Japan Pro Wrestling' (NJPW) to call play-by-play commentary alongside NJPW veteran and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett beginning Friday, March 4 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. In Ross' first episode, he and Barnett will call the action for matches from Wrestling Dontaku 2015.
NJPW, which premiered its 52-episode second season on AXS TV Jan. 15, airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. This season features episodes highlighting matches from the 2015 New Japan Cup, Invasion Attack, HINOKUNI, Best of the Super Juniors 22, Dominion 7.5, G1 Climax 25 and more throughout the year.
A WWE Hall of Famer, Ross was known as the voice of WWE for nearly two decades, bringing his incomparable broadcasting talent to hundreds of TV and pay-per-view broadcasts for the organization. No stranger to New Japan Pro Wrestling, Oklahoma native Ross also called the first-ever, live English-language broadcast of NJPW with Wrestle Kingdom 9 in 2015.
"I'm excited to join the AXS TV team in presenting the amazing athletes of the New Japan Pro Wrestling brand," said Ross. "I'm a major fan of NJPW and look forward to joining Josh Barnett to form the best broadcast team in the genre. Business just picked up!"
"It's a dream to be able to sit next to the legendary Jim Ross and call the incredible wrestling action of New Japan Pro Wrestling," said Barnett. "I've listened to his commentary throughout the years and I'm glad to have someone as distinguished as him to work with in the booth."
"Jim Ross is unquestionably one of the best announcers in the history of professional wrestling. He is a true legend and we look forward to leveraging his unparalleled experience to continue to make NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING on AXS TV the best wrestling show on television," said AXS TV FIGHTS CEO Andrew Simon
AXS TV's NJPW episodes are produced by and acquired from TV ASAHI CORPORATION.